June 26, 2012
What Happens to TV As We Know It When The Business Model No Longer Works?
Television is a huge part of American pop culture. Those of us in Generation X grew up in a time when we shared far more of pop culture than future generations are likely to experience. Indeed, I think it's safe to say we're probably the last generation to have that collective experience. As authors Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont wrote in their introduction to the book "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops: The Lost Toys, Tastes, and Trends of the 70s and 80s" (see my post HERE for more on that book) eloquently observed:
"For a supposedly fractured generation, we kids of the 1970s and 1980s share a far more universal past than kids today. We all watched the same five channels, shopped at the same few chain stores, hummed the same commercial jingles."
Today's post looks at the topic of television and whether we'll ever watch TV together again.
It's courtesy of my local NPR affiliate, WNYC and ran on May 25, 2012. They interview two different media guys, specifically David Carr, New York Times media reporter and Matt Zoller Seitz, TV critic at New York magazine. Have a listen below, or you can visit the affiliate's website at http://www.wnyc.org/story/212463-future-tvs-community/:
Now, in that conversation, New York Times media reporter David Carr makes the following (scary) observation:
"Dish Network announced a technology right before the Upfronts, 'Hey, we can give you a product that's gonna vaporize all the commercials.' My concern as a consumer is that when the business model goes away, all this yummy programming that Matt [Zoller Seitz, TV critic at New York magazine] and I really enjoy might go away."
We may have an expectation as far as TV is concerned that could potentially disappear as we know it.
I don't think anyone is claiming that television is going away... yet.
Far from it.
But the content we've come to enjoy on TV has come at the expense of others (specifically, advertisers) and that business model is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. It's not inconceivable to imagine a future where television entertainment becomes primarily a subscriber medium, and those who can afford to pay for it will have the benefit of watching TV from, say their nursing homes, while those who can't will need to live out their golden years in search of something else to fill their days (and nights, for that matter). Combine that with newspapers and magazines struggling to survive, and it really makes me wonder.
That may be a very pessimistic outlook, although it is a possibility. I certainly hope it doesn't come to that.
My readers may recall that I recently shared an April 30, 2012 NPR interview with Warren Littlefield (interviewed by Audie Cornish), who was the former President of NBC. I covered that in a recent post that can be viewed HERE.
Mr. Littlefield defends the current model to some extent, noting that "What audiences want and need are shared viewing experience. And what Must See TV was all about was one network, one night for one decade. And a third of the country would come and watch Must See TV. And you didn't dare go to work the next day because if you hadn't watched, you would be left out of the conversation, that water cooler conversation, that connection."
However, Ms. Cornish does ask "At the same time, you know, if you look at the numbers this quarter for the networks, ABC lost 21% of its average viewing audience. I mean, this is in the last four weeks. NBC also lost percentage. Fox lost 20%. It just seems as though with the shift, where the eyeballs are going - people watching it on their own - I'm wondering how you still have that same creative process in development if there's this kind of fleeting paycheck."
Mr. Littlefield responded that Must See TV is not doable again, at least not that size and not that magnitude, but he does suggest that it is still feasible to draw a fairly large, widespread audience, such as with a hit like "Modern Family" (ABC) which appeals to adults and kids, audiences of all ages. He says that's still, at nearly 20 million people a week, a pretty broad-based hit that really far exceeds what's being watched on cable. But unlike, say HBO, which is subscription-based, networks can't really do big-budget productions without massive audiences.
The key, at least from my perspective, is that works as long as advertisers are willing to sponsor it. Let's hope that continues to reach enough people to remain a viable advertising channel.
Luckily I have a pretty substantial DVD collection, much of which is "classic" television that doesn't even get rerun in syndication very much anymore. But I'd still like to watch TV when I get old without having to pay for the privilege!